Damn, these Stanley Cup playoffs are hard to predict. Last night, with the Devils facing elimination for the second consecutive game, New Jersey found a way to squeak out a 2-1 victory. With the win, the series is now 3-2 in favor of the Los Angeles Kings and both teams must board a plane and fly across the country once again. The Devils are the first team since 1945 to even force a Game 6 after trailing 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals. Heading into last night, the Kings had been 10-0 on the road, so for the first time LA had to actually hear rejoicing from an opposing team’s home crowd as the Devil fans celebrated loudly in the Prudential Center.
Throughout the playoffs, I’ve been praising Devils Captain Zach Parise. I’ve constantly stated that his leadership and overall play reminds me very much of Ryan Callahan, and when the two faced off in the Conference Finals, Parise got the better of the matchup. Last night, Parise took a lot of pressure off his team, when he snuck behind the net to intercept a lazy pass by the Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and snuck the puck between the goalies skate and post to give the Devils a 1-0 first period lead. It was one of the rare mistakes that Quick has made during the playoffs and as a captain is supposed to do, Parise took full advantage.
The Kings Justin Williams knotted the game at 1-1 three minutes into the second period, as he beat Martin Brodeur on a wrist shot from the point. It would turn out to be the only shot Brodeur would let past him, as he saved 25 of the 26 shots he faced. A few minutes later, Bryce Salvador gave the Devils a 2-1 lead on a shot from the blue line that was weirdly deflected and found a way past Quick. The crazy thing about Salvador is that the defenseman has now scored 4 playoff goals, but during the regular season he found the net 0 times. “We’re looking for him to score a goal all year, so he peaked at the right time if you ask me,” Brodeur said of Salvador after the game. Salvador’s goal ended up being all the Devils would need to send both teams back to LA.
The Kings had the Devils on the ropes and like most people covering the series, I wrote New Jersey off heading into Game 4. They looked like a lost team, but inside the locker room they never stopped believing. “We could have packed it in two games ago. That’s the bottom line,” Brodeur said. “But you see we have a bunch of resilient guys that want to try to make history and try to win the Stanley Cup. We’re not going to give up.” With last night’s win the Devils are 10-1 in Games 4-7 in the postseason, which will give them extra confidence to extend this series even further. If the Devils can win Game 6 and force the Kings to travel across the country for the 5th time in 2 weeks, after losing 3 games in a row, I believe the Devils will win Game 7. Therefore, I think the winner of tomorrow night’s Game 6 will determine this Series, and with no basketball on the schedule, you better be watching!
I wrote an article a couple of days ago, after Game 1 of the Rangers & Devils series that was entitled Long Live The King. The easiest thing for me to do right now would be to copy and paste that article, because after watching today’s 3-0 Ranger victory, I felt as if I was watching a replay of the first game. Both games featured unbelievable goaltending by both teams in the first two period. Both games also were scoreless going into the third period. Dan Girardi scored the first goal in both of these games, and the Rangers also added an empty net goal in each contest to give themselves a 3 goal lead. Another parallel in Games 1 & 3 was the fact that the Rangers really got outplayed in the majority of the game. The main common theme that each game shared was the Henrik Lundqvist was just a little bit better than Marty Brodeur.
In each series so far, the Rangers won Game 1, lost Game 2 and won Game 3. Against Washington and Ottawa, the Rangers dropped Game 4 so the next game is a big step for the Rangers to break this pattern. One of the reasons I believe that the Rangers have a great shot of taking the next one is that when they play in New Jersey, they bring a lot of their blue shirt fans with them. At the end of the game this afternoon, there was an arena filling chant for Henrik, and as Ryan Callahan scored the game-sealing empty net goal, a number of fans shot up with their hands in the sky celebrating the Captain’s achievement. Ranger fans did not travel to Ottawa or Washington in this capacity, and I truly believe this will lift the Rangers in the next contest. The Devils organization even gave their fans advice to keep the Ranger fans out of the building, proving that they are majorly concerned with how little home ice advantage they will be receiving
As I previously stated, the Devils carried the flow of the majority of the game. They out shot the Rangers 36-22, went on 6 power plays to the Rangers 2 and held an advantage on faceoffs as well. However, we all know that the only stat that counts at the end of the day is goals, and Lundqvist was incredible. The Devils put plenty of guys in front of the net to give Hank trouble, though it appeared that he had X-Ray vision and picked up all shots regardless of being screened. In the second period, he stopped odd man rush after odd man rush, even using his pads to stop the Devils on two separate breakaways. Basically, he put on a clinic of how to play the goalie position and everybody in the Rangers organization should be grateful for the man in between the pipes.
As the game went on, the physicality picked up. The fact that this rivalry has yet to breed a fight in the series is very surprising. I think it usually takes 3 or 4 games for teams to really start hating each other and I think that the next game might turn into the blood bath that many of us expected. After Game 1, Martin Brodeur encouraged his teammates to hit the Rangers in the face with pucks when New York attempted to block their shots. I think the venom that such a comment can add to the series will finally boil over in the next game, and I personally would love to see these teams get a little rougher with each other. Personally, I think the Devils are ripe for the taking right now, and I fully expect the Rangers to take their heart in Monday night in Newark.
Today is one of those days where if you are a sport fan, it doesn’t get much better! You have the NBA and NHL playoffs, a full slate of baseball, the Kentucky Derby and to top it all off, a big boxing match. My suggestion is to start off with a few beers and a comfortable couch for some hockey and basketball this afternoon, then find a nice lounge and order a few Mint Juleps and enjoy the derby, then switch over to a bar, order some tequila in any form, and watch the fight! For you gamblers out there, get your wallets ready and read below because this is a great day to wager on some action!
NHL Playoffs: Rangers vs. Capitals- This series has been played very close throughout. Both teams play solid defense, have great goaltending and contains dangerous scorers who are capable of hitting the nets. However, the Rangers have all the momentum in the world after their last game, a triple OT win on Wednesday night. I expect the Rangers to carry their solid play into today’s game, and even though it is in Washington, New York has played excellent away from the Garden so this won’t be much of a factor. Look for the Rangers to win another close, exciting game and take a 3-1 lead in the series.
NBA Playoffs: Pacers vs. Magic- The Pacers are coming off 2 straight wins, the last being in Orlando and I don’t expect anything different from today. Danny Granger is the best player on the floor, coming off a 26 point, 9 rebound game. In game 3, Roy Hibbert had a solid 18 points, 10 rebound game, taking advantage of the huge void left by Dwight Howard, and I don’t see how Orlando can match his size. Indiana had a solid season all year long, though received very little attention. Look for them to take a stranglehold on this series today by beating the Magic and taking the series back to Indiana up 3-1.
NBA Playoffs: Spurs vs. Jazz- Although San Antonio is a favorite to win the entire thing this year, as the Spurs have had a great season lead by Tony Parker, I believe the Jazz have a little more fight in them then they have shown. Though Utah lost the first two games in San Antonio by a combined 46 points, Utah has always enjoyed a great home court advantage. I do not think the Jazz have the talent to match up with the Spurs over the course of a series, but I also don’t see them getting swept. I think today is when they get their first and only win, and look for Derrick Favors to play more minutes and have a positive impact for the Jazz.
NBA Playoffs: Thunder vs. Mavericks: Though the first two games were very close, Oklahoma prevailed in both and then dominated the Mavs in Dallas to take game 3, 95-79. The defending champion Mavericks have a lot of veteran leadership, and Dirk and company have been in this position before. The only difference this year is they are going against a younger, hungrier, and better basketball team. Kevin Durant threw up 31 points in game 3, and it appears that the Thunder are trying to make a statement that they are ready for the big time. Look for Durant’s hot shooting to carry over and the Thunder to sweep the champs out of this year’s tournament.
NBA Playoff: Grizzlies vs. Clippers- This series has been my favorite of the playoffs so far. The Clippers had a great comeback in game 1, the Grizz matched them in game 2 behind OJ Mayo’s 20 points off the bench, and now the series returns to Los Angeles. The Clipper fans have been overshadowed by Kobe and the Lakers for so many years, and this is the series and chance they have been waiting a while for. When they brought Chris Paul in this season it was for games like todays. I like both of these young, talented teams, and I really feel like this series has a great shot of going the distance. Though I am leaning towards to Grizzlies to take the series, I think the home crowd, who haven’t had a home playoff game since 2006, will give Paul, Griffin and the rest of the Clippers team the energy needed to match Memphis’s physical play and allow LA to take Game 3.
The 138th Kentucky Derby- I am not going to pretend I know a lot about horse racing. Every now and then (and by that I mean three times a year), I’ll tune in just because I like the half a minute of excitement and I enjoy hearing the announcers call the winner. I have not been researching the horses, I do not know how they each run on different tracks, and I’m not sure which jockeys have the inside advantage. However, from what I know, this particular field seems to be very open. As a result, I will predict my winner by using my usual strategy, pick a horse that has a cool name and pays out well. Since I plan on drinking a decent amount today, and plan on uttering the phrase, “I’ll Have Another”, then I don’t see how picking any other horse makes sense. I’ll Have Another is paying out 17-1, so as I’m at the bar, I’ll be simultaneously ordering drinks and rooting on this beautiful chestnut colt.
Junior Middleweight Title Match: Floyd Mayweather vs. Miguel Cotto- Floyd “Money” Mayweather has taken a lot of heat over the past few years for who he hasn’t fought, mainly Manny Pacquiao. However, in tonight’s match, he will certainly be tested by the 31 year old Miguel Cotto, who has a career 37-2 record, with one of those losses extremely questionable. His only other loss came at the hands of Pacquiao, so Cotto can definitely hold his own in the ring. Cotto is much more humble than the 35 year old Mayweather, who is the biggest showman in the sport. Though Cotto might be easier to root for, Floyd is the best in the business hands down. With a 42-0 lifetime record, it is very hard to argue that point. I think Floyd will win tonight, as he is just a better boxer than Cotto. I don’t see a knockout, as both fighters are technically sound, though I believe at the end of the night, Mayweather will receive the judge’s decision on the score cards.
Enjoy the day and night in sports and good look with your bookies and at the OTB!